Hearings in the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will resume on August 14 with the start of the defense case for the Congolese opposition leader. The court last Friday went into its summer judicial recess, which will last until August 6, 2012.
Prosecutors charge that Mr. Bemba is criminally responsible as military commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) for the brutalities his troops committed against civilians during the 2002-2003 Central African armed conflict.
The prosecution’s case opened in November 2010 and over a period of 16 months, 40 witnesses including four expert witnesses took the stand. After the prosecution rested its case last March, judges invited two victims to testify, while another three victims addressed the trial via video link from Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR). More than 4,000 victims are participating in the trial.
Mr. Bemba’s defense lawyers have told judges that they expected to call “approximately 60 people.” They said these witnesses, unlike those called by prosecutors, had “tangible knowledge” of the five month period during which the accused’s soldiers were deployed in the conflict country.
“They will take rather longer [giving testimony] than the prosecution’s whose knowledge of the events was second-hand and partial,” defense lawyer Peter Haynes said in March. “We are looking at a period in excess of a year, probably as long as two years.”
In a June 7, 2012 ruling, Judges Sylvia Steiner (presiding), Kuniko Ozaki, and Joyce Aluoch asked the defense to review its list of witnesses in order to determine whether there is a possibility of reducing the number and “avoiding the presentation of overly repetitive evidence.”
Mr. Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has pleaded not guilty to two crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging).